Dr Al Leslie came to K-RITH in 2012 with a clear scientific purpose: to understand exactly how human cells respond to infection with HIV and tuberculosis.
He witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by HIV in the late 1990s while working in Malawi; first as a volunteer teacher and later with farmers. High rates of HIV infection were compounded by extreme poverty and a lack of healthcare infrastructure in the country. Leslie recalls losing several friends to the disease during his time there. “At least, we assumed that’s what it was. It wasn’t really talked about,” he says.
When he returned home to England a few years later, accompanying the woman who would soon become his wife, he expected to continue his work in agricultural science. But his prospects in agriculture in the UK didn’t pan out, and he needed a job.
Broadening his search, he came across an ad from a lab devoted to studying the immune response to HIV infection and he recognised an opportunity to work on a problem whose destructive effects had been so painfully apparent in Malawi.
Leslie took the job as a research assistant at Oxford University, and within six months the head of the lab had offered him a position as a PhD student.
Since then, he has devoted his studies to understanding the relationship between HIV and its host, focusing on immune cells’ earliest response to the pathogen. Recently, he’s expanded those studies to include the tuberculosis-causing bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb).
Get in touch with Al Leslie via firstname.lastname@example.org
The Leslie Lab investigates the innate immune response to HIV and TB and how novel aspects of this response may potentially be exploited to improve patient outcomes.
Innate immune cells are among the first to encounter invading pathogens, and the outcome of this interaction is a key factor in the subsequent course of infection. However, despite over 25 years of research in HIV and perhaps over a century for TB, there is still much about the innate immune response to both pathogens that remains unclear. This knowledge gap is partly due to the fact that aspects of the innate response are hard to study. Neutrophils for example, which are increasingly thought to be central in the immune response to both HIV and TB, must be worked on fresh and cannot be frozen down for investigation at a later time or in a different location. In addition, some of the most important interactions between innate immune cells and these pathogens occur in the tissue and not in peripheral blood, which by necessity is the compartment on which most HIV and TB research is based.
Fortunately, being based at a cutting-edge research institute at the very heart of the HIV and TB co-epidemic, we are ideally placed to overcome these challenges and improve our understanding of the innate immune response to HIV, TB and their co-infection. In so doing we seek to learn how these responses might be exploited to improve the treatment and diagnosis of these diseases.
Meet the Team
RESEARCH LABORATORY TECHNICIAN
Abigail Ngoepe did her Honours in Biochemistry at the University of Limpopo and went on to do a Masters at the University of Pretoria with the Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases. The main focus of her project was to identify and characterize Th1 and Th2 epitopes of Ehrlichia ruminantium (Erum2510) to be added to a multi-epitope vaccine against heartwater. TB and HIV are the most pressing public health issues of our time and as such she has a keen interest in finding out more about these diseases and understanding how the immune system reacts to them. Abigail currently works as a research technician on a collaborative study on paediatric HIV-infection. Her main duties include routine BSL2 upkeep, sample processing, phenotyping and data analysis.
Shepherd Nhamoyebonde has a passion for understanding infectious diseases, which led him to specialise in Medical Laboratory Sciences and be involved on the front lines of HIV and TB research. In 2010 he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Masters Fellowship to study at the University of Cape Town. He also completed a postgraduate diploma in Infectious Diseases with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Shepherd’s PhD research is to elucidate the role of neutrophils in the immune response and pathogenesis of HIV and M. tuberculosis infections. The project also aims to determine the neutrophil proteomic profile in HIV and TB infected patients in order to identify proteins that will allow prediction of patients with TB.
Rabiah Fardoos completed her BSc degree in Pharmacy at the University of Copenhagen in 2014. She is currently enrolled for a Masters degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Fardoos met K-RITH postdoctoral research fellow Henrik Kløverpris in Copenhagen, and he introduced her to K-RITH and the possibility of doing her Masters thesis in Durban. Soon after this, she moved to Durban for a year to work in Al Leslie’s lab. Her Masters project, supervised by Kløverpris, involves single-cell profiling of tissue with resident and circulating HIV specific CD8+ T cells.
Paul Ogongo did his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Nairobi (Kenya) where he specialised in Zoology and graduated with First Class Honours in 2007. He received a National Museums of Kenya Research Fellowship award in 2008 and joined the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) to work in the Schistosomiasis Programme. At IPR, Paul worked on different schistosomiasis control strategies including vaccine testing and the development of new diagnostic tools for schistosomiasis. He completed his Master of Science (Molecular Medicine) degree from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2014. Paul’s PhD research is the study of T cell immune responses to M tuberculosis in human lung tissue. The project aims to determine the differences in T cell responses at the infection site and in circulation in order to better inform TB vaccine design.
RESEARCH COLLABORATOR – OXFORD UNIVERSITY
Julia Roider is a medical doctor from Germany who is specialising in internal medicine and infectious diseases. She graduated from medical school in 2009 and since then has been working at the University of Munich Hospital. She has a strong interest in research, and studied T-cell immunity in HIV infection as part of Rika Draenert’s research group at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University for several years. Julia is also a member of Professor Philip Goulder’s HIV Research Group at Oxford University. Julia joined Dr Al Leslie’s lab in 2015 as a postdoctoral research fellow. Her work seeks to characterise the UKZN HIV Pathogenesis Programme’s Paediatric Slow Progressor cohort further to gain a deeper understanding of the role of T-cell immunity in successful long-term immune control of HIV infection.
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOW
Henrik Kløverpris studied for a BSc degree in Biochemistry followed by a Masters degree in HIV immunology from the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with Statens Serum Institut. In the department of Virology, he led a phase I HIV vaccine trial utilising HIV peptide pulsed Dendritic Cells for in vivo vaccination in Danish HIV positive infected individuals. He then went to Oxford University to work with Professor Philip Goulder to study the impact of CD8+ T cell responses in control of HIV infection for his PhD. In 2011 he continued on in a postdoc position and during his final year was awarded a three-year postdoctoral fellowship from the Danish Ministry of Science and Innovation. Soon after, he won the ‘Sapere Aude’ Young Elite Researcher prize to work with K-RITH Investigator Dr Alasdair Leslie. Henrik’s research at K-RITH focusses on immune responses to HIV and TB. Amongst other projects he is investigating the role of Innate Lymphoid Cells in HIV and TB infection.
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOW
Duran Ramsuran was awarded a PhD in 2013 for a thesis that looked at the spectrum of HIV related nephropathy in KwaZulu-Natal. Duran has published several novel research papers and has presented his work at international and local conferences. His current postdoctoral research under the mentorship of Dr Al Leslie involves establishing an organotypic model of lung and gut mucosa that will allow him to study the interactions of both HIV and TB with the immune system at these crucial sites of infection.
Amanda Wellmann completed her BSc in Microbiology and Genetics at UKZN in 2012. During her third year she was introduced to TB research during a short course in Mycobacteriophage genomics hosted by K-RITH. The following year she completed her Honours degree at UKZN and then moved to K-RITH where she works under the supervision of Dr Alasdair Leslie. For her Masters project Amanda is working under the mentorship of Dr Henrik Kløverpris, studying possible roles of Innate Lymphoid Cells in tuberculosis pathology.
RESEARCH LABORATORY TECHNICIAN
Alveera Singh has a Masters degree in Biotechnology and a PhD in Applied Science through the Durban University of Technology, with a specialisation in Medicinal Plant Biotechnology. She has experience in medicinal plant biotechnology, enzyme technology, toxicology, microbiology, immunology, biochemistry and micropropagation. Alveera’s PhD research involved screening medicinal plants from South Africa, trying to discover new sources of compounds to inhibit the growth of TB causing Mycobacterium tuberculosis. She joined K-RITH in 2015. Her responsibilities include routine BSL3 and BSL2 upkeep, maintaining a record and inventory of all clinical and research samples generated by the lab and assisting in the processing, basic phenotyping and storage of clinical samples.
Innate Lymphoid Cells Are Depleted Irreversibly during Acute HIV-1 Infection in the Absence of Viral Suppression. Immunity. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2016.01.006
Pattern recognition receptor mediated downregulation of microRNA-650 fine-tunes MxA expression in dendritic cells infected with influenza A virus Eur J Immunol, 2015 Oct 8. doi: 10.1002/eji.201444970. [Epub ahead of print]
Human and murine clonal CD8+ T cell expansions arise during tuberculosis because of TCR selection PLos Pathogens, DOI:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004849
A molecular switch in immunodominant HIV-1-specific CD8 T-cell epitopes shapes differential HLA-restricted escape. Retrovirology. 2015 Feb 20;12:20. doi: 10.1186/s12977-015-0149-5.